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REVIEW

 

HEAD

TEAC DV-3500, £149.99

 

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There appears to be little doubt about which side of the tracks Teac are on when it comes to recordable DVD formats. The DV-3500, its most recent entry-level player is unusually decisive in this regard and spits out discs it doesn’t approve of, in this case DVD+RW recordings; DVD-R discs played without a hitch but it wasn’t terribly happy with our DVD+R test recordings, they played okay but the menu screen had an unusual flicker.

 

Otherwise this is a thoroughly well behaved player, though we wouldn’t have minded a little non-conformity when it came to the region lock. It is fixed on Region 2 replay and only drastic internal tinkering or a change of firmware (not recommended for novices) is likely to change the situation, though as usual multi-region models are available for a small premium.

 

The feature list is quite short and to the point but what it does have is genuinely useful, and works well. The extras, over and above the standard DVD feature set, include MP3 replay, a 3-mode picture zoom plus 4-mode 3D sound for beefing up the output from stereo speakers. There is also a very good range of trick play facilities speeds – up to 64x search and 3 slomo speeds – in both directions. In addition to regular subtitling the 3500 has a Closed Caption reader, though this is little used on movies but it is likely the data will be carried across on TV shows and series released on DVD that may not carry conventional subtitles.

 

Around the back there is a standard selection of AV connections comprising a single SCART socket carrying composite and RGB video, separate composite and S-Video outputs and in addition to the usual analogue mixed stereo there are coaxial and optical bitstream outputs.

 

The whole caboodle is housed in a slim case and the front panel sports a currently trendy mirror finish on the display and disc drawer; the few controls on show are confined to a handful of discrete buttons. It’s a pity the same attention to detail wasn’t given to the remote control handset, though. Important functions like Play/Pause and Stop are nested in amongst lots of other similarly sized buttons and the chapter skip and search controls are uncomfortably close to the cursor keys. 

 

Installation is pretty straightforward and the setup menus are clear and easy to understand. There are some useful extras including a variable audio compression control for tweaking the sound according to the type of material or the listening environment. The audio menu has switchable downmix facility (mono, straight analogue or mixed stereo for Dolby Pro Logic equipped sound systems) and the on-screen info displays has a bitrate meter.

 

Picture performance is outstanding for what is technically a budget player and it puts quite a few mid-range models to shame with a clean and superbly detailed picture. It really shows what it can do when playing discs that contain a lot of dark or gloomy sequences. The contrast range is one of the widest we’ve seen recently; details and textures that are normally lost in the background are crisply rendered and rarely freeze up when the camera stays still. This shows up well in movies like The Road to Perdition and Moulin Rouge; colours that can appear muted and flat are bright and vibrant and changes in brightness and shade are treacle-smooth, with none of the coarse graduations or ‘stepping’ that afflicts a lot of cheaper players. There’s also good news for anyone with a collection movies on CD-1, although not up to DVD standard these older recordings take on a new lease of life in this machine. Picture search and slomo are very impressive too with none of the characteristic jerkiness that afflicts a lot of cheaper players, especially at higher replay speeds.

 

The extra audio facilities are well worth having and the dynamic range control is particularly effective at quietening down louder passages, handy for a spot of late night viewing if you don’t want to disturb the neighbours. The analogue soundtrack is very clean with hardly any background hiss, effects have plenty of weight and impact and this is carried across to audio CDs, which sound rich and lively. It can easily double up as a decent hi-fi component if used with a competent amp and speakers. The bitstream outputs provide a smooth and natural sound that again will not disappoint when partnered with a quality AV amp. 

 

Previous Teac DVD players have all performed reasonably well but the 3500 marks a distinct shift upmarket. It’s not without its flaws though, the remote handset could be improved and it’s reluctance to play some types of recordable DVD and the rigid region lock could be a disadvantage for some, but for basic movie and audio CD playback there’s little to touch it in the sub £150 price bracket.

 

 

KEY FEATURES

Teac UK, 01923 819699, http://www.teac.co.uk/

 

Great control with smooth variable speed search and slomo in both directions

 

An unusually good selection of user adjustments in the setup menu

 

3D sound from two speakers, beefs up sound on stereo TVs

 

VERDICT

FEATURES 4/5

A fairly basic line up and few toys but what more do you need for serious movie viewing, and what it has got works really well!

 

PERFORMANCE 5/5

Outstanding picture quality and unusually adept at revealing hidden detail in darker scenes and shadows

 

EASE OF USE 3/5

Let down by poorly designed remote handset with too many similarly sized keys making frequently used functions difficult to locate

 

VALUE OF MONEY 4/5

A very fair price, you can spend a great deal less for a basic machine but with the 3500 you are paying for picture quality, and it shows

 

OVERALL 4/5

Teach have got the balance just right on the 3500, a simple, straightforward player for those who put picture and sound performance above frills and gadgets

 

CAPTION

The mirror finished front panel has become a bit of a cliché but it’s not overdone on this machine and it should blend in easily with most AV setups

 

 

COMPLETE YOUT SYSTEM WITH:

Philips 28DW6557 widescreen TV, £800, (HE 112, Jan 03

Sony STR-DB1080 AV receiver, £500, (Awards 2002)

 

 

BOXOUT – REGIONAL VARIATIONS

The DV-3500 uses the latest version of the popular ESS VideoDrive decoder chipset. In the past many players using this component have had easily hackable region locks, usually by entering a simple code into the remote handset, which gives access to a hidden ‘Service’ menu, from where the region code can be changed. However, this particular machine appears to be firmly locked to Region 2, none of the usual hacks work and no new ones have appeared on the web so it seems likely that it has been disabled in the machine’s firmware.

 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t be unlocked. There is still a chance that a hack will be found though it normally turns up fairly soon after the machine has gone on sale in Japan and the US, which are usually a few weeks ahead of the European markets. If the player cannot be hacked then it is likely that various companies will offer to ‘chip’ the machine, which involves modifying the main circuit board but this will invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty. The other possibility is a firmware update and this has worked on previous Teac machines, as well as models made by Toshiba and several other A-brand manufacturers. The revised code made available on the Internet, the file is downloaded on a PC and copied to a CD-R. The disc is then loaded into the machine and played and the whole process only takes a few moments. Whilst it usually goes without a hitch it’s not without risk and if the incorrect firmware is used, or the data is corrupt there is a very good chance the player will be rendered useless so it’s not something you should try unless you know your way around PCs and DVD players and are prepared to take a gamble on your machine’s well being. 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2003, 0504

 

 

 

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